Trump vs. British Accents

A general and incomplete map of accents throughout Britain and Ireland. Image Credit:  Ricjl  via  Wikipedia   cc

A general and incomplete map of accents throughout Britain and Ireland. Image Credit: Ricjl via Wikipedia cc

     Last week, British Members of Parliament gathered to debate whether Donald Trump should be banned from entry into the United Kingdom. This was in response to an online petition signed by over 500,000 Britons who demanded this action following the front-running Republican presidential candidate’s controversial proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States should he win the presidency.

     The petition was well clear of the 100,000 signatures needed to require Parliament to debate the issue, for it is possible for the Home Secretary to ban individuals deemed to be “fostering extremism or hatred” or may “constitute a threat to public policy or public security.”

     The debate lasted for three hours, and I watched some of it with some amusement. It really wasn’t a debate so much as it was a session for running the gamut of insults (including the word “wazzock”) against the outspoken New Yorker and condemning his public statements. Partly for this reason, many people questioned whether this was the best use of three hours on the taxpayers’ dime (or in this case, ten pence), considering especially that few MP’s actually advocated to ban him from the country.

     However, the proceedings were a unique opportunity to see the diversity of the United Kingdom on display.

     There is no one British accent (just as there is no one American accent), and indeed, the panoply of accents and dialects throughout the UK is quite staggering and in my opinion, is one of the things that make the United Kingdom such a unique and fascinating. The “debate” last Monday featured probably but only a sampling of those accents as the members to stood up to speak.

     Not (yet) being an expert on British accents and dialects, I could only guess at what I was hearing, but I felt as though I did generally hear Welsh accents, along with some that could be identified as coming from the Midlands. Specifically, there may have been one MP with a Brummie accent and another carrying the sounds of Lincolnshire. Going south, the Cockney and Estuary accents from London and the Southeast made prominent appearances, but so did some Scottish accents – including Glaswegian and others hailing from West Central and the Lothians. Some of these could have been mixed with other accents into what may have been the Scouser accent of Liverpool or mistaken for other accents of northern England, such as Geordie and those generally from Yorkshire, Cumbria, and Lancashire. From across the Irish Sea, a Northern Irish lilt was also prominently featured – probably Belfast or Ulster-Scot, which bore much in relation to the aforementioned Scottish sounds. Back on the mainland, the West Country/Cornish voices were also probably represented during these three hours of anti-Trump.

     In the end, no action was taken against the man who now stands a good chance of winning the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States. The consensus seemed to be that "The Donald" made disreputable statements about many groups and individuals, but that a ban went overboard for man they saw as acting foolishly and stupidly, and this was summed up by one MP who said that Trump’s actions amounted to “buffoonery”, and that this should be met “not with a ban, but with the great British response of ridicule.”

     If nothing else, it was – at least for me as a Britophile – like traveling through the United Kingdom at warp speed, with the country showing its diversity and dynamism via the complex and colorful fabric of its voices, as seen here in this video compiled by the Washington Post which features the National Anthem.

     If only they could "sing with heart and voice" more often on issues of greater importance facing the country. Here's the hoping they will. Until then, keep up the accents.

American Indepedence and Britain Today

The Declaration of Independence

     Today marks the 239th anniversary marking the founding of the United States of America – the date when we formally adopted a Declaration of Independence which stated our national creed in the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

     It was indeed, a momentous day when a group of men representing of thirteen colonies on the edge of a far-flung empire came together in Philadelphia to take a stand and act with boldness and courage to give birth to a new country, which has gone on to rise as one of the greatest, most powerful, and influential countries in the world – a symbol of freedom, hope, modernity, democracy, and opportunity.

     Today, I am proud to call myself an American and to call the United States my country, and on this day, I remember why we became independent and the values for which we fought in the process.

     Those values and ideals – representative government arguably the most important of them – were in part born from the Enlightenment and political traditions of the country from which we became independent: Great Britain.

     British democracy had by this time developed into a balanced relationship between monarchy, aristocracy, and the commons in which the monarch was still sovereign but Parliament (the aristocracy and commons) represented the supreme representative authority of the British people and had since the Glorious Revolution circumscribed the powers of the monarch so that on several issues such as taxation, the monarch could not act without the consent of Parliament.

     This principle, that the representatives of the people should work with the monarch, and not be overruled by him or her, had its roots in Britain’s constitutional heritage going back over hundreds of years – including Magna Carta, the Declaration of Arbroath, the Petition of Right, and the English Bill of Rights. More recently, it was rooted in the Whig Party which believed that the monarch – at least at some level – was answerable to the people, and could not claim absolute authority from God.

     The Whig ideal of representative government traveled across the Atlantic, where the Thirteen Colonies had established their own assemblies based on the British Parliament at Westminster in London. There, the colonists could elect their own representatives to debate matters of concern to them and make decisions for the general benefit of the population. This was especially true during the period of Salutary Neglect, when Parliament made little to no effort to enforce laws made in London on the colonists, and the colonies were largely able to do their own thing within the imperial system.

     It was only after 1763 when laws started be enforced with renewed vigor. This was in response to the fact that the British military had fought to defend American interests in the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War, known as the French and Indian War. Britain emerged victorious and with the defeat of the French, had gained new territory to become the foremost economic and military power on Earth.

British North America following the Seven Years' (French and Indian) War.

     Yet this prize did not come cheaply. The new imperial dominions needed maintaining and administering, and the American establishment alone – now including about half of the North American continent – became quite expensive to maintain, indeed. In the process of the war itself, Britain had gone into debt to pay for it, and now the new costs of the expanded empire were also being almost entirely shouldered by the British population in Britain itself.

     From here, Parliament enacted a series of laws designed to increase tax revenue from the colonies and to enforce parliamentary authority – most notably the Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Acts of 1767, and the Tea Act of 1773 – and it did so in the belief that it was only fair that colonists start sharing a greater deal of the costs of maintaining the Empire and the benefits it conferred. It also did so in the belief that Parliament was not just the supreme authority in Great Britain itself, but also throughout the whole British Empire, and that as such, it had the constitutional right to levy taxes and make laws anywhere throughout the Empire without impediments.

     This unlimited view of parliamentary authority without representation was not shared by the colonists, who saw the acts as being imposed from on high by a distant legislature across the Pond, where the colonies lacked representation and the ability to speak and act on the behalf of their own interests – hence the sentiment of having “taxation without representation.”

     Without parliamentary representation at Westminster, the colonists nevertheless believed that the British Constitution recognized fundamental rights – such as representative self-government – which Parliament could not ignore, even if it was the supreme authority throughout the Empire. The fact remained that it did not have representatives from the colonies on which it was imposing laws and was now in some cases riding roughshod over the assemblies and laws established by the colonists – going so far as to abolish them without the consent of people living there.

     In light of this, writers such as Thomas Jefferson, James Wilson, and Samuel Adams argued that without American representatives, Parliament was merely the legislature of Great Britain and that with legislatures of their own, the only thing connecting the colonies to the rest of the Empire was common allegiance to the Crown. Jefferson himself wrote in 1775 that: 

“there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America” 

     Those terms were the insistence on accepting parliamentary authority without representation in it, and the unwillingness to view colonial assemblies as having a legitimacy worthy of the constitutional and political traditions that led to their creation. 

     This was in short, Whig language being used against the British Parliament, which had first invented it.

     Many Americans wished to retain the links with the mother country, and certainly did not want a disruptive conflict, but the attempt at coercion by military force and occupation was in many ways, the last straw, and the rest is history.

     Since the outcome of the conflict which followed the battles of Lexington and Concord, America and Britain gradually become close friends and allies as America rose to global prominence alongside Britain, and both countries forged a Special Relationship rooted in the common bonds of language, history, culture, heritage, the rule of law, and democratic principles. Together, we have made mistakes, but when I think of us liberating the world from the forces of evil in Japan, Germany, and Italy – was well as the efforts to bring down the Soviets, and generally trying to help others, I believe we have done more good. 

Uncle Sam with his eagle and Britannia with her lion.

     On a personal level, Britain – now officially known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – is my favorite country in the world outside of my own. 

     It started with an interest in the great ocean liners of the 19th and 20th centuries, and a great many of them happened to be British, such as the Queen Elizabeth 2, which was built at John Brown’s on the Clyde and remains a prime example of Britain at its best.

     From there, I immersed myself into learning about the monarchy, British history, the people of Britain, what the country is like today, British politics, and etc. All the while, I never thought of the United Kingdom as being divided according to the English, Welsh, Scots, and Northern Irish. For me, it has been one country made of different peoples with much in common, with the borders between then virtually meaningless.

     Indeed, what we think of today as Britishness has been brought about by the full and joint political, economic, and social union of these four nations into a single country, known as the United Kingdom. With the melding of these places, the idea of Britishness and Britain took hold, and each part has greatly contributed to that. Take any part out, and an essential part of the UK goes missing.

     When I hear songs like I Vow to Thee My Country, I think of the nation by which we have stood beside through decades of peace and war. When I listen to Heart of Oak, I think of great British ships that exported Britain around the world and helped to connect it. With Rule Britannia! and Land of Hope of Glory, I also think about the country that did so well at the 2012 Olympic Games by being united and which also celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of its storied Queen.

     I look at the vast expanse of Britain – from the Welsh valleys, to the green and pleasant land of England, to the Scottish Highlands, and Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway and take wonder in the beauty of one land – indivisible. I look at the radiance of the UK’s great cities – from Glasgow to Manchester, Belfast to Inverness, from Aberdeen to Cardiff, Liverpool to Southampton, and from Birmingham to Edinburgh to London, and remain in awe of these places that are the engines of Britain’s prosperity.

     Yet for all of these great things, I am not at all blinded by visions of the United Kingdom as perfect country.

     There is poverty and economic suffering currently going on throughout the entire United Kingdom, for the downturn of recent years has caused pain for many people. I know that it is not entirely a land of hope and glory, but that does not mean that it cannot be.

     Britain has been – and is – a great country, and much of that greatness stems from the fact that it once governed the largest empire in human history. The British Empire is long gone, but positive influences from Britain around the world live on to the present day, and the UK is still a leader in world affairs. This is something in which the people ought to take some pride.

     It should also take pride in its cultural exports, such as James Bond, the Beatles, and Harry Potter – all of which hail from the land of Shakespeare and Burns. There are other contributions, like developing democracy and social welfare and leading the world in the industrial revolution, and still more, its venerable institutions such as the NHS, the monarchy, the BBC, Parliament, and the Armed Forces, all of which – in spite of their shortcomings – provide the glue that underpin British society and bind the British people together.

     I see all of these things, and I think to myself: what a wonderful country, this sceptered isle, or rather isles – these Isles of Wonder, which were so beautifully portrayed by Danny Boyle at the Olympics nearly three years ago.

The present-day United Kingdom (in green).

     I cannot help but to have admiration for what Britain has done in the past, and – as the 2012 Olympic Games themselves displayed – have hope for what Britain can do in the future, both at home and abroad.

     There are issues with Britain – many of them, and I sometimes wonder if the country is capable of solving them and surviving them. Among the issues are that of the drive by nationalists in Scotland attempting to break up Britain and end its very existence.

     Some of them will use the American example of independence as reason for their efforts. They talk of self-determination and need to be from under the yoke of Westminster, as though Scotland was an oppressed colony with absolutely no say in how Britain is governed, and in my time defending the UK, I have come across nationalists who are incredulous at the idea of Americans believing in keeping the UK together. Upon President Barack Obama’s comments in support of the UK last year, one newspaper columnist said that he could “remind an American president of what self-determination means in his tradition.”

     Well, an American president (and this American citizen) can say that we were inspired by self-determination coming from the British tradition of deciding their own affairs via sending representatives to Parliament to govern the country. In the present day, people in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales exercise self-determination as British citizens at national, regional, and local levels of government, and the British government (with Scottish representation) affirmed this principle of self-determination when it gave the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh the power to hold a referendum on secession. 

     So no, we have not forgotten the meaning of self-determination. Scots already have it as British citizens. The secessionists just want to change it to self-determination as Scottish (but not British) citizens.

     It is also worth making a distinction between Scotland today and the American colonies of 1776, in addition to what has already been said in this post.

     Scotland is part of the country known as the United Kingdom, the country from which America declared independence. America was administratively part of Britain within a colonial context; it was part of Britain the empire, not Britain the country. If America had been sending representatives to Westminster to have a say on issues affecting the peoples living there, you could make the argument that America was part of Britain the country.

     But that was not the case. We were colonies of Britain, with no parliamentary representation, and that is why we fought under the banner of “no taxation without representation.” Scotland by contrast is not, and has never been a colony. It has been part of Britain the country, with parliamentary representation and a say at the top table, including Scots taking leading positions in government such as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister for all of Britain.

     Today it seems as though Britain is fighting for its very existence. However, it has seen and been through worse times (i.e., World War II and the Blitz), and I believe it – and its people – will survive these trying times.

     From a solid foundation of hundreds of years, this country has much potential for a more dynamic, hopeful, and united future together.

     There is nothing wrong with Britain that cannot be righted by what’s good about Britain – nothing wrong with Britain that cannot be fixed by the British people as a whole from Shetland to Lands End.

     It is my hope as an American celebrating Independence Day that Britain remains together (and can celebrate a Union or Britain Day), just as we remained together after our bloody Civil War, and have remained ever since, and that the Special Relationship between us shall endure.

My performance of My Country, Tis of Thee/God Save the Queen in celebration of America and Britain.

The Folly of Devolution Thus Far and (Worse) EVEL

The Parliament of the United Kingdom
(Credit: Jim Trodel via Flickr cc)

     Ever since the advent of devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in the late 1990’s, there has not yet been an answer to the infamous West Lothian Question, whereby MP’s from those areas cannot vote on matters that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, or Northern Irish Assembly, but can vote on such issues in the British Parliament at Westminster – even though their own constituents are not directly affected.

     Devolution of certain issues to those legislatures meant that such issues – like health and education – were no longer issues of a UK-wide concern, and were now effectively English issues being decided by the UK Parliament at Westminster – including by Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MP’s, despite English MP’s having no such say over devolved matters in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

     The West Lothian Question is so named because it was brought up by Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for West Lothian during the parliamentary debates on devolution in the 1970’s. It was he who asked how such a then-hypothetical situation could be sustained, and as such, he was a prominent opponent of devolution because nobody could provide him with an answer to his question.

     Now with devolution entering a stage in which substantial legislative and fiscal powers are set to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament (in fulfillment of the Vow made towards the end of the independence referendum campaign), there is an increasing need to answer Dalyell’s 40 year old question.

     Labour attempted to answer it by proposing regional devolution within England following the devolution it had established in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Tony Blair's government succeeded in a referendum to devolve power to Greater London, which involved the creation of the directly elected Mayor of London.

     However, the attempt to create a devolved assembly in North East England was so heavily defeated by the electorate of that region in a 2004 referendum, that the idea was shelved for all the other regions (bar London), and the government effectively kicked an answer to the WLQ into the long grass.

     The answer that is now set to be pursued by the current Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron appears to be English Votes for English Laws (EVEL). This has been Conservative Party policy since devolution came about, and it has different variants, but the gist of it is that the Speaker of the House of Commons will determine which bills going through the Commons are applicable only to England (or England and Wales), and therefore require a majority of only English (or English and Welsh) MP’s to pass such legislation. Some variants of EVEL call for an absolute “veto” in which relevant MP’s will have the ultimate say over such legislation, regardless of how other MP’s may vote. Others merely allow for those MP’s alone to vote at the committee stage (where amendments can be made), whilst allowing the full Commons to vote on the legislation at its final stage.

     Either way, EVEL will likely mean some dilution in the voice of Scottish MP’s in the British Parliament because it is simply becoming more difficult to justify their votes on issues that do not affect their constituents – issues which have essentially become English issues because of devolution.

     What’s ironic is that the Scottish National Party (SNP) campaigned heavily at the last election on a platform of “making Scotland’s voice heard” and “giving a louder voice for Scotland” at Westminster – as if to say that Scotland never had a voice there, which is plainly ludicrous, as Scotland as been sending MP’s to Parliament since the Union began in 1707. (Here, they engage in the art form of conflating Scotland with the SNP.)

     However, as an acquaintance of mine in Scotland – a gentleman named Graeme – has said, devolution has “turned the hypothetical ‘West Lothian Question’ into reality, creating a situation in which Scottish MPs were voting on English affairs that English MPs no longer had any say over in Scotland.” Furthermore, he adds that as devolution was being implemented during the last Labour government (1997-2010), the UK had a Scot – Gordon Brown – “representing a Scottish constituency [and] serving as Chancellor and then Prime Minister formulating policies on health, education, policing, etc in England that were no longer within the remit of the UK Government within Scotland.”

     Now with the recent extraordinary success of the SNP in winning 56 of 59 Scottish seats in the Commons and the prospect of further devolution (including the full devolution of setting income tax) to Holyrood, the constitutional anomaly of the WLQ has become “unsustainable” and EVEL “has more or less” become inevitable.

     However, Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman disagrees with such notions, and claims that for decades, Scotland has had to put up with “England’s political preferences.” But this attempt to say that “karma’s a b****” with regard to Scottish influence across the UK ignores the changes wrought by devolution. It also ignores the idea that British general elections ought to be about what the voters across the UK want, as opposed to attempting to break the votes down by certain areas. However, even when you do this, what you find is that since World War II, Scotland has gotten the government it wants more often than not, and indeed on two occasions – in 1964 and 1974 – Scotland voted for and got a Labour government, even though England voted Tory. In a democracy, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.

     Nevertheless, devolution was brought about to address a “democratic deficit” with regard to Scotland’s place within the Union, and to lessen “English influence” on “Scottish affairs.” With this, logic follows that some people in England may wish to lessen “Scottish influence” on “English affairs.”

     McMillan says this ignores the “brute fact” that the UK is an asymmetrical union in which 85% of the population resides in one part of the country – England, and that EVEL will shut Scotland out of critical decisions that affect the UK as a whole – including Scotland.

     Unionists such as Graeme are then oft to point out that this is an admission that devolution – at the very least – is a flawed concept whose architects failed to think through its implications on Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole, and its implementation in a piecemeal manner failed to engage the UK as a whole on constitutional matters.

     They also contend that the asymmetry to which McMillan refers did not exist before devolution, for with a single sovereign parliament in London, all of the British people were represented by MP’s who could equally participate in the parliamentary process in full without question. This allowed for many Scots to take their rightful place in powerful and prominent positions in government – defense secretaries, home secretaries, foreign secretaries, chancellors of the Exchequer, and prime ministers – and representing the interests of the UK as a whole (including Scotland).

     Only after the high-charged and emotive rhetoric of “Tory government’s we didn’t vote for” and “English laws imposed on Scotland” (especially following the eleven years of Margaret Thatcher’s government – 1979-1990 – during which Scotland repeatedly voted Labour, though the UK as a whole voted Conservative) followed by devolution in 1999 did the fundamental nature of Scottish parliamentary representation come under question – first with the cutting of Scotland’s MP’s from 72 to 59, and now the proposals for EVEL.

     McMillan claims that this is “largely designed to massage the wounded pride of English Tory MPs by offering them a bump up the pecking-order in the public-school politics of Westminster.” However, with the West Lothian Question becoming a reality (as Tam Dalyell had warned), English MP’s – whatever their political stripe – have a legitimate constitutional issue. By attempting to solve one democratic deficit, another one was created in the process.

     This is not to say that EVEL is the optimal response, but after the clamor for “more powers” for the Scottish Parliament (including the prospect of Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA), where all taxes raised in Scotland would go to Holyrood) should anyone be surprised?

     But realistically, given the geographic reality, England will never truly be free of Scottish influence, and Scotland will certainly never be free of English influence.

     Using veteran nationalist Paul Henderson Scott’s description of Scotland’s relationship with England as that of being in bed with an elephant – and the need to be free of the elephant, Kenny Farquharson wrote recently in The Times that this failed to “acknowledge basic geography and economics.” Without the United Kingdom holding them together, Scotland and England may well move to separate beds, but will still have to share the same room – the same island, Great Britain. Being ten times the size of Scotland, Farquharson notes that “England will always be our bigger, more populous, more powerful neighbor” and what it does “politically, economically, culturally — will always have a profound effect on us [in Scotland].”

     In other words – despite what some nationalists may want to believe – Scotland cannot ignore its big sister, the elephant. Farquharson goes on to mention that Scotland’s exports within the UK – to England, Northern Ireland, and Wales – amounted to £44.9 billion, which is a considerable sum when one considers that Scottish exports to the rest of the world combined was £22 billion (and less than half of this was with the European Union).

     Indeed, one of the flaws of EVEL is how to know what issues can be classified as “English only” or “English and Welsh only”, for even though a piece of paper may say that, members from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can also argue that because of England’s size, legislation that legally applies only to England can (and will) have affects – particularly financial – on the rest of the UK.

     This is why EVEL is quite controversial, for it would create two classes of MP’s – English MP’s with full time access to the Commons and all stages of the parliamentary process in the Commons, and non-English MP’s who would effectively be told to stay out of their own parliament on certain days, even though the legislation and issues debated on those days may indirectly affect their constituents.

     It is also why even though Yes Scotland and the SNP were campaigning on the idea of Scotland being master of its destiny, they were also trying to argue for a form of independence that would retain links with the rest of the UK, but leave it without the ability to shape it, as the continuing Union would continue to substantially influence Scotland – regardless of the constitutional arrangements.

     This points to the importance of maintaining the United Kingdom as something that is in Scotland’s best interests, and maintaining as firm a Union as possible with full and complete parliamentary representation in Parliament for everybody, rather than trying to unravel it and creating more grievances along the way.

     Indeed, one of the reasons for the merger of England and Scotland into the UK was to give Scotland access to the much larger English markets, and this – along with the much wider British Empire – proved to be highly beneficial to Scotland. But even without the Empire, being part of the United Kingdom, as Farquharson points out, has been beneficial to Scotland’s economic prospects more than anything else, and UK as a whole has benefited from Scottish contributions (in terms of human, social, financial, natural, and instructional capital) that have helped to make it a global leader and significant world power, which in turn provides benefits to the UK – including Scotland.

     Attempting to loosen the UK with well-meaning, but ill thought out devolution and EVEL threatens to upset these necessary bonds – political, economic, and social – which keep Britain together. Indeed, one of the disheartening prospects is that there may never again be a Chancellor of the Exchequer or Prime Minister from Scotland representing a Scottish constituency.

     On this point, my friend Graeme believes that:

“Nationalism and devolution has not increased Scotland's power and influence within the Union, it has significantly diminished it. It has rendered much of Scotland's influence within the wider UK intolerable to that part of the UK which forms the majority of its population, and has made it very difficult for it to be [constitutionally] acceptable for any Scottish MP to occupy any cabinet post other than that of Foreign or Defence Secratary, because any other cabinet position would make them responsible for policies in England over which the English have no say over in Scotland, which the English no longer consider to be either fair or acceptable.”

     He further laments that thanks to “poorly handled devolution and [acquiescence] to nationalist demands” Scotland and Scots, “once a powerful and disproportionately influential voice within the Union, have rendered themselves in some respects as bystanders to larger issues within the United Kingdom” – many of which will continue to affect Scotland.

     The result, he fears, will be that “England and the English will come to dominate the UK far more than they have ever done” and that this was perhaps the way the nationalists had planned it, for it certainly would give them “even more grievance fuel to further their agenda”, and that some Scots “will believe them when they say that England is unfairly denying Scotland a voice within the UK by freezing them out of influence at Westminster.” It would make the roar of the Scottish lion “sound more like a cat’s mewling.”

     McMillan attempts to get around this by saying that it would be rather pompous for English Tories to talk about “speaking for England”, as if England is a homogenous community when in fact it is not – pointing out that “the England of the 21st century is a vastly diverse nation, which contains millions of people – from Liverpool to Portsmouth, from Truro to South Shields – who are fully as exasperated with the current Westminster establishment, and its failed politics of austerity, as any Scottish voter.” Her solution is to use the House of Lords as a chamber that represents the nations of the UK, as well as the regions within England, which in her view, would meet the “standards of 21st-century democracy.”

     As it is, I have written on how the Lords can be reformed in such a way. Looking back, this probably should have been the way to go in addressing the asymmetries that she refers to, which have also been noted by many pro-Union politicians such as Gordon Brown. If this had been achieved long ago, it may have averted the need for devolution, because it would have guaranteed a level of Scottish representation in the upper house that would have been on par – or nearly on par – with England, so that Scotland’s voice (or rather voices, since Scotland is just as diverse as England) could be heard and provide wisdom and scrutiny to government legislation. Even if a reformed Lords did not have the absolute ability to block government legislation, it could – with substantial Scots influence – force the government to think again on its agenda.

     Indeed, perhaps another flaw in devolution was that it made changes along the edges of the British constitution without also making changes at the center, and this has left the country with an unbalanced governmental structure that is prone to misunderstandings and grievance-mongering.

     Of course, there would still be people making the case for devolution and decentralization from London. In fact, the idea of revamping the United Kingdom into a federal union like the United States has taken hold in some quarters in the wake of the referendum. But even Gordon Brown has remarked that federalism can only go but so far in a country where 85% of the population lives in one area, and most forms of federalism still mean having a strong central government with the ability to levy and collect taxes, and make an array of laws that directly apply to all people throughout the entire union.

     In essence, federalism means that there are some powers exclusively exercised by the federal government, some powers exclusively exercised by the federated governments, and some powers are exercised jointly. For example, in the US and Germany, the setting of income and corporate taxes are a joint responsibility of federal and state governments. The federal governments and legislatures in both countries are quite powerful – though their power is limited in certain areas.

     Indeed, the authority of the British Parliament at Westminster has already been limited in practice, regardless of the fact that it possesses ultimate sovereignty across the UK. The Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and Northern Irish Assembly are now semi-permanent institutions to the point where no prime minister or his/her government will dare contemplate abolishing them.

     The issue at hand now is how these institutions, the British Parliament, and potential institutions in England can fit into a federal framework for the United Kingdom as a whole. This will require an end to ad hoc devolution (including the proposal for Full Fiscal Autonomy for Holyrood) as well as the crude answers contained in the proposals for EVEL. Joyce McMillan herself acknowledged that the decision to devolve control of setting income tax rates was “strange and hasty”, for the income tax allows for one of the most transparent forms of redistribution from wealthier parts of a country to another, and the concept of pooling and sharing resources throughout the United Kingdom for the benefit of all was one of the main arguments used for keeping Scotland as part of the Union.

     If the Union is to survive at this point, there needs to be the establishment of a UK constitutional convention that will attempt to sort out the issues of British governance and forge a lasting constitutional settlement that is as “fair” as possible to everybody.  It means looking at the United Kingdom as a whole and having a firm understanding of how it ought to work going forward, which – among other things – means defining the powers of a federal UK Parliament (as Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution does for the US Congress), the limits on the federal parliament (Article 1, Section 9), and the powers and limitations on the federated governments of the nations and regions within the UK (Article 1, Section 10).

     It also means defining the values that bring Britain together as a country, and establishing principles upon which the people and their representatives can build on.

     This effort will require an enormous amount of good faith, tact, skill, statesmanship (likely in the face of political party interest), creative imagination, and a sense of vision and purpose to make such a settlement a success.

     It will also require the participation of people from all walks of life in Britain – including ordinary citizens, civic organizations, and faith groups in an expression of British civic participation that may also facilitate bringing people together and forging a sense of a common identity and common ideals for Britain going forward. 

     The brute reality is that Scotland and England have been “interfering” in each others affairs for centuries, and they really can't help it, given the island they share. The Union simply made it official, and in my opinion, it is in everyone’s interest for Britain to remain together, for Britain has so much collective potential, and its people can achieve much more together – not just for themselves, but for the world at large – than they could ever do apart.